The barn swallows were delighted when I worked the dogs and sheep in the hay field on an overcast summer afternoon.
Little sheep hooves stir up insects and leave a bug buffet in their wake.
Neither the sheep nor the Border collie seemed to mind the aerial show going on around them.
I loved it.
The barn swallows, with their orange-tinted breasts, forked tails, stylish aerobatics, and bug-eating capabilities are my favorite birds.
It turns out that trailing the sheep was only the first act of the swallows' show.
After kenneling the dogs, I climbed aboard the tractor to mow a pasture. Within minutes, a dozen swallows swooped around me. They didn't seem to mind the diesel engine. They only cared about the bugs.
Their swallow friends noticed, and soon, dozen of birds swooped above the pasture. Some flew east; others to the west. Some dove within a few feet of the ground, while others cruised at altitudes of 10 feet. Often they came within inches of each other before one veered to the side or ascended. Do they ever crash?
The barn swallow population on the farm is at its peak now. The fledglings have joined their parents -- and all are flying and feasting on bugs.
But as I mowed, I realized that they'd soon be gone. It's already the second week in August. One day in late August, while doing the chores, or playing with the dogs, or herding sheep, I will notice the air space is empty, that the swallows have departed for warmer climates, and that I will have to wait eight months for their return.